What makes unadulterated sentimentality so repugnant is that sentimentality is really just the potentially creepy fetishization of innocence. But what’s astonishing is to realize that we can still have justice in a world like ours that is devoid of innocence. Because human beings will strive for redemption under virtually any circumstances. Despite how awful things are, and the completely miserable and dangerous conditions under which most people are forced to live, we still (for the most part) persist in being polite and even kind to other people we meet. This implies that in reality justice is more a matter of love and forgiveness than of guilt and innocence. Still, we continue not only fetishizing innocence, but, as our culture becomes ever more misshapen, fetishizing guilt too.
The sometime sociologist Philip Slater has recently resurfaced on the Huffington Post as a sort of humanist contrarian, but he struck real Devastationalist gold back in the 1970s with a series of remarkably prescient books diagnosing the increasing pathological tendencies of postwar society. The most famous of these is The Pursuit of Loneliness, published in 1970. Here he is talking about the prohibitive difficulty of changing paths, and potentially constructive ways of viewing despair, from a later book called Earthwalk (1975):
“I have wasted X years of my life in a painful and useless pursuit; this is sad, but I now have an opportunity to try another approach.”
This is hard for people to [say]. There is a strong temptation either to rationalize our wrong turnings as a necessary part of our development (“it taught me discipline”), or to deny that we participated fully in them (“that was before I became enlightened”). Giving up these two evasions leads initially to despair, but as Alexander Lowen points out, despair is the only cure for illusion. Without despair we cannot transfer our allegiance to reality–it is a kind of mourning period for our fantasies. Some people do not survive this despair, but no major change within a person can occur without it.
People get trapped in despair when their despair is incomplete–when some thread of illusory hope is still retained. When artificial lights are turned off in a windowed room at night, it takes a little time to realize that the darkness is not total, and the longer we are dazzled by the after-image of that artificial light, the longer it takes to perceive the subtle textures of natural light and shadows–to realize that we can, in fact, see.
And this is the All Girl Band, or me and Tex, at least. (Perhaps the rest of the Girls were already at the bar?) This was the song I sang for the Losers Lounge tribute to Randy Newman and somehow it emigrated into the All Girl Band setlist for awhile. Of course, at the time I had no trouble relating to what was — hidden behind a very convincing facade of drunken self-loathing — the song’s disastrously sentimental heart. Famously known to have been John Belushi’s favorite song.
Guilty (Randy Newman)
Yes, baby, I been drinkin’
And I shouldn’t come by I know
But I found myself in trouble, darlin’
And I had nowhere else to go
Got some whisky from the barman
Got some cocaine from a friend
I just had to keep on movin’
Til I was back in your arms again
I’m guilty, baby I’m guilty
And I’ll be guilty all the rest of my life
How come I never do what I’m supposed to do
How come nothin’ that I try to do ever turns out right?
You know, you know how it is with me baby
You know, you know I just can’t stand myself
And it takes a whole lot of medicine
For me to pretend that I’m somebody else